Now, firstly, I really like Hollaback!. The organisation was the one who taught me the term ‘street harassment,’ who showed me that it was something that was experience by women all over the globe, and that I didn’t have to take that shit.
I also really respect the fact that on their website, Hollaback! does make an effort to discourage the racial stereotyping of men of colour as sexual predators.
Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, Hollaback! asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary.
With that in mind, I’m very disappointed that their cat-calling video edited out most incidents of street harassment involving white men– leaving the video with predominantly Black and Latino men, all of whom seemed to be of low-income. If this video was meant to show the prevalence of street harassment, and how it comes from men of all backgrounds, it missed its mark.
The marketing agency who worked with them, Rob Bliss Creative, has stated that their reasons for leaving so many white men on the cutting room floor was because of video and audio problems. While I believe there was no malicious intent in this, I question the fact that no one from Hollaback! brought this up upon review of the edited film. Maybe Rob Bliss isn’t aware of why this is an issue, but Hollaback! should know better. There is already exists the belief that street harassment is a cultural thing, that the men doing it are yelling in AAVE (e.g. lemme holla at you!), that it’s the forte of construction men and other low-income workers.
Where are the white collar workers getting pissed off when you don’t respond to their ‘smile, beautiful!’ Where are the groups of college-age white boys snickering to themselves as the yell at women across the street? As Roxane Gay tweeted, you didn’t walk through any white neighbourhoods?
Look, everyone’s experience with street harassment is different. As a young Asian woman in Sydney, I predominantly get harassed by old white men asking if I want a ‘companion’ to ‘show me around the city’ or white men who yell sexual, racial terms at me. While other women may have a similar set of experiences, it’s not indicative of what all women experience. even other Asian women in my town might experience.
Similarly, this video is not indicative of everyone’s experience with street harassment- but it’s presented as the ‘average’ woman’s experience with street harassment.
I think this video is a good, but flawed start. You really want my attention? Make another video showing a black woman walking down the street for ten hours. And a Latina woman. An Asian woman. A trans woman. Someone walking down the street holding hands with their girlfriend. Fill in the blanks. These things cost money and time, yes, but if the anti-street harassment movement is meant to be a feminist movement, it should support all women. And if these videos do get made, then we, as a community, should make sure they get the same amount of coverage as this video did.
Hollaback!, I hope you address these racial issues soon. I want no part in a movement that will demonize men of colour just so white women don’t have to feel guilty about clutching their purses tighter when they pass a black man.
I want us to do better.
Since October is National Mental Health Month (at least, I know it is in NSW and the USA), I would like to take a minute to talk about feelings. (I know, gross.)
Before I start this, I just want it to be clear that I’m in no way qualified to talk about your mental health, particularly if it’s related to sexual harassment or assault. Here are some relevant numbers and websites you should visit (all mostly relevant to Australia and NSW in particular):
Everything I’m about to talk about is experiential, so while you can feel free to talk to me about your experiences with street harassment and/or sexual harassment, there are other channels that are far more qualified than I am. I only want the best for y’all.
Now, often, when I experience street harassment. I tend to have this moment of, “you know, it wasn’t really that bad.” That’s completely fine- that is, as long as that’s how you actually feel. If you’re brushing it off just because you don’t think you should be upset about it- well, the only thing that’s doing is hurting you.
The first time I got catcalled here in Sydney, I remember brushing it off to my friends and family off and online- and then later huddling in a corner and sobbing to myself in my room. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the first time I’d been harassed on the street, and it wasn’t that in that particular instance I had felt unsafe, but it did make me feel horrible and worthless. The fact that it affected me so intensely made the whole experience much worse.
I don’t want any of y’all to feel that way. Street harassment is terrible not just because it demeans and objectifies a person, but because it’s an accepted part of our culture. It’s not something that should be accepted, and no one should have to put on a brave face just because it is. Even things that would be considered micro-aggressions (i.e. men telling women on the street to smile) matter because they’re indicative of the culture we live in- and just how messed up our culture is.
It doesn’t matter how often or how seemingly innocuous the street harassment you experience may be, it’s still awful. You have a right to feel awful, and no one, not even I, should have to give you that right. Anyone who tells you that it’s not that bad, or that you’re over-reacting, or that you are, for whatever reason, just not allowed to feel what you feel- well, those guys are not being supportive. They’re being assholes.
If street harassment is getting you down, come talk to me. Or rant at me. Or cry at me. Or don’t! Whatever you choose, it’s your choice, and I wanna support y’all in whatever way I can. Take care of yourselves.
What is street harassment?
Simply put, it is sexual harassment in public places. It is often gender-based (though it can be motivated by or with other factors such as race or sexuality), and it creates public environments that are perpetually charged with the potential of disrespect and violence.
Cat Calls: Called Out believes that if we want to stop street harassment, even if just in our own area, we have to change our attitude. No one can be a bystander. In order to do so, this campaign has a few goals:
1.) Awareness. People need to know that street harassment happens, it happens everywhere, and it is a problem.
2.) Generating ideas on how to deal with street harassment when you see it or hear about it happening. There are ways to support people when they face street harassment. It can include giving people space to vent, calling out creeps, and et cetera. The “et cetera” part is where your ideas come in.
This may be a small campaign, but it’s an important one, and with your help, we can at least attempt to tackle some of the issues around street harassment in Sydney and in general.
Before we get started though, some disclaimers:
Cat Calls: Called Out is greatly inspired by the Hollaback! movement, as well as LivetheGreendot. Both of these are fantastic international movements, though neither of them have Sydney-based campaigns (though Hollaback! does have a Melbourne-based campaign). At the moment, Cat Calls: Called Out is not meant to be a Sydney version of either of these movements. Rather, this campaign hopes to work off of ideas from these campaigns, as well as generate new ideas to battle street harassment in Sydney.
For the rest of these posts, when I talk about street harassment, I will refer to people who experience sexual harassment with female pronouns due to the majority of street harassment being directed towards people who identify as women. However, this campaign fully acknowledges that street harassment can occur towards anyone in the gender spectrum.
On that note, any and all comments attempting to derail discussions with “but what about men?! / not all men are like that” and similar sentiments will be deleted. Same goes for any sentiments containing slut-shaming, racial profiling and etc. We’re all about support here, y’all. Hopefully this is an unnecessary disclaimer, but you never know.
Thanks for checking us out (not in that way), and stick around- we’ll have a lot more content coming your way.